The Mindsets of Managers: Women, Men, Leadership and Careers

5 min read | Susan Colantuono

mindsets of managers

Curiosity Exploring Mars

In the past 40 years, corporations have tackled the challenge of women's advancement by working diligently on two fronts.

  1. They have worked on the women. They help women set career goals and tell them what skills they need to enhance in order to get ahead - leadership, self-promotion, negotiation and more. 
  2. They have worked on corporate practices and policies. Instituting open job posting, mentoring programs, flexible work, day care options, maternity leave options and more.

And they've gotten each of these areas about 66% right. As a result, women have made great strides into middle management. But they have not made great strides into senior leadership. One reason is what I call The Missing 33%™.

The Final Frontier

The landing of Mars by the ship Curiosity suggested this fitting metaphor for what hasn't happened in organizations since the early years of the feminist movement. Companies have shied away from the final frontier - i.e. helping/requiring managers to understand how the mindsets they hold can negatively influence talent decisions about women. And to take action to stop the negative consequences of their mindsets.

Most companies have avoided doing this work in spite of repeated studies such as the recent McKinsey report that said,

Of all the forces that hold women back…none are as powerful as entrenched beliefs. While companies have worked hard to eliminate overt discrimination, women still face the pernicious force of mindsets that limit opportunity…."

In other words, the mindsets that people managers hold have a subtle and gradual negative effect on women’s careers. 

We've been tracking over a dozen mindsets that wreck havoc with women's careers. Many of them (such as the culture of merit versus culture of self-promotion) have been turned into advice for women to change (e.g. get better at self-promotion). But this is only half of the solution - and we've seen after decades of this advice handed out generously that it hasn't solved the problem.

The other half of the solution is to ensure that managers understand how their seemingly neutral (and in some cases benevolent) mindsets negatively impact women. Even though barriers to women's advancement are now semi-permeable membranes as opposed to glass ceilings, mindsets act to filter men through much more easily than women. 

Exploring the Final Frontier

Here's an example of what I mean. I worked with an executive team responsible for over 30,000 employees worldwide facilitating a discussion about actions they could take to minimize the adverse impact of mindsets on women's advancement. During the discussion, one of the women made the point that trust was very important to her in selecting candidates. A few minutes later, one of the men made this observation,

"Trust is very important for me, too. Trust is earned when I've known someone over time. What I just realized is that when I was in engineering school, there were no women in my classes. So that means that there are no women that I consider among the pool of trusted colleagues that I look to for candidates."

In his case, this seemingly neutral mindset - trust is important - has a substantially adverse impact on women's advancement. Luckily he realized it and will be able to consciously act to remedy the impact.

Recently Catalyst reported that a more inclusive culture can be achieved when white men are engaged as champions of inclusion. At Leading Women, we've begun to see the concrete impact of the gender dynamics work we're doing with women and men from around the globe. If the feedback from the diverse executive team cited above is any indication, their exploration of mindsets/gender dynamics will make a significant difference.

Our research with over 30 focus groups across 15 countries tells us that the impediments created by managers' mindsets differ by nation and corporate culture.

New Call-to-action

With this knowledge we work with you to identify the barriers most prevalent in your business locations and prepare managers to make more equitable and effective talent decisions. To explore the ways Leading Women can support your efforts to develop top talent and remove barriers to women's advancement, contact us!

Contact Us

Lead ON!